Some of Utah’s best cuisine can be found in places that might not look like gustatory havens – strip malls, shopping centers or far from neighborhood culinary centers. But they are worth seeking out, especially these ones. It should go without saying that it would be wise to phone these businesses before heading out to them. Some offer only takeout dining during the pandemic and others may have limited hours.
Located in a State Street strip mall is Mahider, which specializes in Ethiopian cuisine. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but inside it’s warm and inviting, just like the friendly staff there. I suggest starting with chicken-filled sambusa: lightly crusted pastry dough filled with chicken, jalapeños, onion, and served with jalapeño sauce. There are lots of tasty vegetarian dishes on the Mahider menu, including tikil gomen, yemisir alicha, ater kik and others. My favorite dish however, is siga wot – a spicy beef stew cooked with berbere spices and served, as are most Ethiopian dishes, with injera bread.
Need tires or new wheels for your ride? I recommend visiting Victor’s Tires on 700 West, where you can enjoy homemade Mexican fare while they work on your wheels. Victor’s Restaurant is adjacent to the tire shop and you’ll find a wide range of freshly made tamales on the menu, including dessert tamales, as well as mariscos, caldos, burritos, tacos, tortas, gorditas, quesadillas, aguas frescas and much more. I can’t resist the birria de chivo and the yummy pozole.
Another excellent hole-in-the-wall spot for Mexican fare is La Oaxaqueña, located on 2700 South. This restaurant is really two eateries in one. La Oaxaqueña features, not surprisingly, the flavors of Oaxaca, while it’s sister eatery – all under the same roof – cooks up Salvadorian fare and is called Cafe Guanaco. One of my tastiest memories of the City of Oaxaca in Mexico was walking out of bars in the early morning hours and getting hit with the smell of burning charcoal. It came from street carts specializing in a uniquely Oaxacan street food called tlayudas. A tlayuda is a large tortilla about the size of a medium pizza that’s cooked over hot coals and topped with black beans, lard, meat (usually beef or chicken) and garnished with lettuce or cabbage, shredded cheese, avocado, salsa and such. It’s sort of a super-sized tostada that one eats on the go, sometimes folded in half, sometimes not. Well, the tlayudas at La Oaxaqueña are the real McCoy – they couldn’t be better, and what a bargain!
Tucked around back of the Salt Lake Chinatownon State Street in South Salt Lake is an excellent Chinese restaurant called Chinese Taste. One of the specialties at this lovely little eatery is BBQ – skewers of grilled meats and veggies like the kind you find from street vendors in Northern China – some 30 different choices in all. Grilled goodies run the gamut from the familiar, like green pepper, shrimp, scallops, tofu, sausage, beef and lamb, to the less routine: chicken heart, fish balls, bacon with enoki, chicken kidney, oysters, and even chicken skin. Not into BBQ so much? No worries, Chinese Taste has an extensive menu that includes everything from potstickers to boiled fish in Szechuan sauce, dry pot dishes, and scrumptious lamb with cumin.
For outstanding sushi, sashimi and ramen, plan a trip to Kaysville. That’s where you’ll find Nikko Sushi & Ramen, located in a shopping center across from Super Cuts and T-Mobile. The chef/owner is Sunny Tsogbadrakh, whose culinary pedigree includes restaurants like Mikado and Naked Fish. I’m especially fond of the sashimi offerings at Nikko, like the Hamachi Jalapeño appetizer: generous pieces of delicate, almost ethereal, hamachi sashimi served with julienned daikon, thin slices of fresh jalapeño, and drizzled with a heavenly yuzu-miso sauce. And, the ramen at Nikko is second to none as well.
This may surprise you, but some of the best Neapolitan style pizza I’ve tasted in Utah comes from a small mom and pop pizzeria at The Square in Bountiful called Ti Amo Wood Fired PIzza. In my opinion, the best pizza is also the simplest. You need top-notch ingredients to create a no-nonsense pizza like the Margherita, which is nothing more than dough, San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, olive oil, and fresh basil leaves. Without the very best ingredients, a simple pizza like this can quickly go awry and, at too many restaurants, often does. But the Margherita at Ti Amo is pizza perfection. Another favorite Ti Amo pizza is the zippy Diavola, which is tomato sauce, mozzarella, Calabrese salami, and crushed red pepper. It’s devilishly spicy – hence the name “Diavola.” Time for a trip to Bountiful!